"These crimes shock the conscience," says Sen. Joe Manchin.
Federal investigators are probing a series of incidents at a Veterans Affairs Department hospital surrounding the “suspicious deaths” of 11 patients.
The investigation is part of an ongoing review, said VA Inspector General Michael Missal, who issued a statement after lawmakers sounded the alarm about the recent spate of unusual deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said at least one of the 11 deaths has been ruled a homicide, while at least nine of the others are suspected homicides.
The VA IG “has been working with our federal law enforcement partners to investigate the allegations of potential wrongdoing resulting in patient deaths” at the medical center, Missal said, adding he could not elaborate on any details of that work. “As is always the case, the VA OIG works with the department to identify and urgently address allegations related to patient safety. The care and safety of our veterans and their families remain our top priority.”
Manchin said he has already spoken to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, as well as Glenn Snider, the medical center’s director, to voice his concerns. The officials confirmed the “person of interest” in the investigation is “no longer in contact with any veterans at the VA facility.”
“These crimes shock the conscience and I’m still appalled they were not only committed but that our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims,” Manchin said, adding he would do everything in his power as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to determine what happened. “These families and loved ones deserve answers as soon as possible and I will make sure they get them.”
The deaths all resulted from wrongful injections into patients’ abdomens, according to The Clarksburg Exponent Telegram. The reports came to light after an attorney representing the daughter of a retired Army sergeant who died at the facility on April 9, 2018, filed a claim with VA. The IG ordered the remains of that individual exhumed for further investigation, the attorney said. The claim served as advanced notice of a pending lawsuit for at least $6 million.
Wesley Walls, a spokesman for the West Virginia facility, reiterated the investigation does not involve any current VA employees.
“Immediately upon discovering these serious allegations, Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center leadership brought them to the attention of the VA’s inspector general while putting safeguards in place to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients,” Walls said.
He added the IG has known about the issue since June of 2018.
"For the sake of all of West Virginia veterans and their families, we hope the IG’s more than yearlong investigation will yield detailed findings soon," Walls said. "Justice is now dependent on the independent IG’s investigation."
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the American Legion’s national convention in Indianapolis on Wednesday, said the days of problems plaguing VA were a thing of the past.
Prior to Trump taking office, Pence said, “Scandal after scandal at the VA revealed a cold indifference to the fate of our veterans, but under President Trump those days are over.”
This story was updated with additional comment from VA.